Employee Spotlight: Blanche Helbling


Our “Employee Spotlight Series” will share with you who the people working behind the scenes to bring justice to our clients and their environments. This series will include interviews from both our Akron and Pittsburgh offices to give you an idea of who are and what we do.

The employee spotlight this week is Blanche Helbling, who is one of our summer legal interns in our Pittsburgh office. She has been with us since July and will stay throughout the summer. She is currently pursuing a law degree at University of Pennsylvania Law School and finished her first year this spring.

Q: What did you do before you got involved at Fair Shake?

A: Prior to law school, I volunteered with AmeriCorps for a few years, then I coordinated the Environmental Education program at a non-profit in Philadelphia. At the non-profit, my job was to teach kids about recycling: what it is, how to do it properly, and why it’s important. That position helped me to see just how interconnected environmentalism, social justice, and quality of life can be. I applied to law school with the goal of becoming a better advocate for both the environment at large and those whose local environments are threatened. During my first year of law school, I worked on pro bono research for the Environmental Law Project, and next year I will serve as the group’s Vice Chair.

Q: Tell me how you first got involved with Fair Shake?

A: Since I am interested in working in environmental legal advocacy after I graduate, I structured my summer internship search around organizations with similar missions and values. As a native to the Pittsburgh area, I was especially excited to discover Fair Shake – I loved the idea of working to protect the land, water, and air that my neighbors and I grew up enjoying. I think that I read through the information on Fair Shake’s website for almost an hour, then I emailed them on the spot.

Q: What is a typical day like at Fair Shake?

A: My days at Fair Shake vary with the projects I have. Generally, an attorney will come to me with a question that needs answered, and I spend a good amount of time researching and writing a memo in response. I’ve also been working on a long-term research project regarding how regulatory takings law applies to municipal ordinances seeking to protect against oil and gas extraction. The vibe at Fair Shake is both relaxed and diligent – everyone always seems to be working hard to accomplish their workload, but somehow they also always have time to explain concepts, answer questions, and offer feedback.

Q: Favorite memory from work?

A: The best part of the summer has been getting to talk directly with concerned local residents who are doing all that they can to protect their homes from threats of environmental degradation. Every time I have one of these conversations, the person re-energizes me and reminds me of why I applied to law school in the first place.

Q: What's a common question you’ve heard from clients?

A: I’m not sure if this counts, but when I told my classmates about Fair Shake, most responses were something along the lines of, “What do you mean, a ‘non-profit law firm?’ What’s that?”

Q: What do you like most about working with Fair Shake?

A: I love that I have the chance to actually, tangibly help protect people’s rights to a clean environment. It’s empowering to know that the work I’m doing might actually result in fewer people getting sick and fewer wildlife habitats getting destroyed.

Q: What has surprised you most about working with Fair Shake?

A: The need. Even though I knew that a glut of environmental threats loom around Western Pennsylvania, I was still shocked by the number of calls Fair Shake regularly receives.

Q: What do you wish other people knew about Fair Shake?

A: When it comes to ‘fighting the good fight’ for the environment, it’s easy to feel discouraged – big, polluting industrial companies will always have more money and more resources than the average farmer or community group. That doesn’t mean that we are giving up the fight, though. Places like Fair Shake offer hope to so many clients who may not be able to afford quality environmental legal representation otherwise. At Fair Shake, a small, incredibly dedicated crew of people regularly manages an enormous body of work, and they do it because they are passionate and optimistic about helping people defend their rights to clean, healthy environments.

Q: Why do you think the work that you do is important?

A: Environmental legal advocacy is about ensuring that all people have access to fresh air, clean water, and safe soil. Environmental rights and human rights are intrinsically linked, so it is essential that people remain committed to their protection and defense.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?

A: I like cooking, running (slowly), spending time outdoors, and socializing with friends and family. Lately, I have been really into reading books about animals and science – probably because they feel like the complete opposite of all the reading I did as a 1L.

Q: What might someone be surprised to know about you?

A: I had absolutely no plans of going to law school until very shortly before I applied to law school.

Q: What is your favorite skill that you have unrelated to what you do at Fair Shake?

A: I can ride a unicycle! Once, I even rode one on stage.